(Photo above: Edy Chérémond tends to Eucosma moths, recently trapped in the field for nurturing in a Land Institute lab. By maintaining a population of the moths the institute has them available year-round for various research projects.)
What got you interested in your field of research?
As a sophomore in college (2008) I did research with one of my teachers on the effect of Xenoestrogen (chemicals that mimic estrogen) on hermaphroditic snails. Many industrial chemicals that pollute our waters can mimic estrogen. At a certain dosage, these chemicals can have negative effects on animals and potentially humans. Although the research was inconclusive due to methodological issues, I still enjoyed it. That year I decided that ecology was the field of research I was going to pursue.
What brought you to TLI?
One of my friends from graduate school found Ebony Murrell’s job application and sent it my way. I applied and here I am. I did not know anything about The Land Institute before I saw the application. I did check out the website before applying and thought that the work was interesting.
Do you have a general timeline that you could describe for your work throughout the year?
During the winter, I am either identifying insects or running statistics so I can understand the data I gathered the previous year. Lots of planning for the spring and summer months also happens during the winter.
During the spring, plans are finalized, and I mostly help other people with their work. For example, this year I helped Kelsey (Peterson) with her bioassays (a method used to estimate the potency of agents by observing their effects on living animals or tissue/cell culture systems). They aimed to determine whether there are any differences in defensive capabilities between different varieties of silphium.
During the summer, I collect adult eucosma moths, which we consider a pest for silphium, from our light traps and get them to lay eggs. The eggs are then put on a diet where they hatch, and the larvae grows. This year, I am also working on a project to figure out how eucosma get to the root crown and where they pupate.
In the fall, I mostly work on getting the eucosma larvae to reach the adult stage. This involves creating diets and keeping track of which diet has the lowest mortality rate and highest rate of pupation and eclosion (when the adults comes out of the pupal case).
What are some of your biggest challenges?
Eucosma is not very well studied, so there is no information on how to rear it in the lab. Most of what we know we have had to figure out ourselves.
Have you/your team made any important discoveries in the past year?
We discovered that the diet we have been using was low on carbohydrate and proteins which explains why we failed to get a colony. It takes a lot of energy for larvae to develop, and without the proper amount of protein and carbohydrates, development will fail.
Also, we found that there are at least three types of parasitic wasps that attack eucosma larvae. In the future this could be used as a biological control but, as of now, we know nothing about these wasps.
Do you have any personal research projects that you are particularly excited about?
The project I’m working on with Kelsey is probably the one that excites me the most. As of this writing, we know that our bioassay can detect differences between silphium varieties. However, we don’t know whether these differences are due to defenses or protein and carbohydrate content. We are planning on designing a bioassay to tease these differences apart. The designing part is what I’m really excited about.
What are your personal research goals for the next 5-10 years in your research?
I would like to have a eucosma colony up and running and have strong evidence showing silphium’s relationship with pollinators.
What is one new thing that you have learned this summer or an interesting experience you have had outside of TLI?
One of my personal ant colonies is getting very large, which means you can see the ants eat a large insect within a couple hours. That has been very interesting to see. I’m planning on doing a time lapse of that as soon as I get a good camera.
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